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This Month in History Around the World - August

NZ VJ Day – August 15th

After the collapse of Germany and its surrender in May 1945 and what became to be known as VE day, the war continued to rage in the Pacific with the Japanese the Allies delivered Japan an ultimatum to surrender on 28 July 1945. Known as the Potsdam Declaration. It called on Japan to surrender its armed forces unconditionally or risk “prompt and utter destruction.”

When this was ignored, the US dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima on 6 August and Nagasaki on 9 August, creating destruction unlike anything seen before. It was also the day Soviet forces invaded Manchuria.

The Japanese continued in their bargaining attempts insisting it would only comply with the declaration if it was agreed that it would not “prejudice the prerogatives of His Majesty as a Sovereign Ruler.” On August 14th, President Truman becomes convinced that the Japanese will not surrender and authorizes resumption of conventional bombing. He tells the British ambassador he is contemplating authorizing a third atomic bomb attack on Tokyo. Seven hundred B-29s fly over Japan, dropping more than 4,000 tons of explosives on military targets.

Torn between differing military factions with the government, Emperor Hirohito accepts the Allies’ terms for surrender. Before midnight he will record a surrender message to his people before releasing it the following day, using the word capitulation but not surrender.

Although the Japanese administration under General Koiso Kuniaki did not officially surrender with a signed document until 2 September, August 15th was celebrated as VJ day. (Victory over Japan)

In New Zealand, people first heard the news at 11 a.m. on 15 August. Immediately sirens sounded and a public ceremony was held. Celebrations began in earnest in part due the announcement of two public holidays.

In Auckland, where less planned celebrations were evident people went out to party as soon as work had finished for the day. By the end a rowdy element set in. Windows were smashed, and people were hurt. By the evening, 51 people had been taken to hospital and an estimated 15 tons of glass lay in the roads.

New Zealand could finally throw off the shackles that five years of rationing, disruption and anxiety of loved ones overseas had caused and return to a new normal. August 5th 1962 Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her bedroom

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926. Her troubled mother Gladys, was committed to a psychiatric unit and with an unnamed father Marilyn spent most of her life in foster homes. She married her neighbour Jimmy Dougherty in 1942 when she was 16, and after he joined the ware effort in the Royal Marines took a job on the assembly line at the Radio Plane Munitions factory in Burbank, California. Spotted by photographer David Conover, she was propelled into the world of modeling and studying the actresses Jean Harlow and Lana Turner enrolled in acting classes. When Jimmy came back from the war, she divorced him to focus on her career and signed her first studio contract with Twentieth Century Fox. Soon after, Norma Jeane dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to Marilyn Monroe (borrowing her grandmother’s last name).

Her acting went from strength to strength, and she won numerous awards, most notable BAFTAS for ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ and ‘The Seven Year Itch’. She also won Golden Globes for ‘Bus Stop’; best known for THAT famous white dress over the grate scene and ‘Some Like it Hot’; perhaps her most famous role. In 1962, Marilyn Monroe also serenaded the then President John F Kennedy with a sultry version of “Happy Birthday.” The event, a fundraiser at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was billed as a 45th birthday celebration for the President, even though his actual birthday was 10 days later.

Seeming to have the world at her feet, Marilyn began to unravel. Reportedly plagued by anxiety and depression, she was known to use alcohol and drugs. They started to affect her work and she was fired from her last movie ‘Something’s Got to Give’ in June 1962 for forgetting her lines.

Just two months later, on August 5th, 1962, at the age of 36, Marilyn was found dead at her home. The autopsy report states that she died of ‘acute barbiturate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose.’

Marilin personified Hollywood glamour with an unparalleled glow and energy that enamored the world. Although she was an alluring beauty Marilyn was so much more than a ’50s sex goddess. Her apparent vulnerability and innocence, in combination with an innate sensuality, has endeared her to the global consciousness. She dominated the age of movie stars to become, without question, the most famous woman of the 20th Century.

August 8th 1963 “The Great Train Robbery” UK One of the most infamous robberies of all time, the Great Train Robbery involved the hijack of a London-bound post train and the theft of millions of pounds. There have been more than 40 books on the subject, not to mention films, television dramas and documentaries, all seeking to answer questions around whether all the men involved where held accountable for the crime. It is widely believed that 15 men were involved but only 12 were ever prosecuted.

The robbers stopped the train, a Royal Mail Van carrying millions of pounds near Bridego Bridge north of London by turning off a green track signal and, with batteries, turning on a red signal. The train’s fireman went to investigate and was captured, unharmed; the engineer was severely injured by a blow on the head. The robbers then took about 120 mail bags by Land Rovers to their farm hideaway, where they divided the loot. The money, about 2.3 million pounds would be worth in excess of 30 Million pounds (over 58 Million New Zealand Dollars) today.

But despite the bravado of the robbery, the thieves were not careful in covering their tracks. They were spooked by training RAF planes and abandoned their farm getaway earlier than they had planned. This in turn roused the suspicion of a nearby resident who called the Police. The Police Office who attended found large amounts of abandoned food, sleeping bags, mail packages, and upon a more thorough scene investigation fingerprints on both a monopoly board, with which they used real money and a tomato sauce bottle.

Further enquiries aided by this rather damming evidence lead eventually to the arrest of the gang, although much of the money was never recovered. They received a total of over 307 years in prison between them. Not many of the gang remain alive today, but their legacy of the daring robbery and the mystery that surrounds it remains.

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